Review: Genelec 8331

The 8331s are the smallest in the range of Genelec’s point source monitor range it calls The Ones. Here, Stephen Bennett gives Audio Media International his expert opinion about these small but mighty speakers.

You wait forty years for some point-source (sometimes referred to as coaxial or dual-concentric) driver based speakers to come along and what do you know? Some do.

Tannoy are, famously, known for their dual concentric speakers, which placed the mid- and high-frequency units in the same driver. The advantages with regard to phase and imaging were palpable, but the engineering challenges meant that, for this author at least, Tannoy’s speakers never quite made the grade. Fast forward to the 21st Century (where I write this from my flying car while dining on a food pill) and the improvements in design and engineering meant that some serious manufacturers are now turning their Sauron-like eye back to the point-source principle.

Genelec’s The One range is one (sic) such and the monitors under review are the diminutive 8331. I use the company’s small – and possibly indestructible – 1092A for studio, mobile, installation and surround work, so was keen to see how the new monitors performed in similar applications. Apart from the (these days) novel appearance, these monitors can take advantage of the Genelec Loudspeaker Manager (GLM) control network system that, the company claim, can compensate for many acoustic ills including boundary issues and poor monitor positioning – have they got a secret camera in my new studio space?

In these days of soaring rents and unstable leases it’s rare for a freelancer to be able to create a suitable acoustically treated workspace – the popularity of nearfield monitors reflects this trend and manufacturers have been quick to meet their needs using various design philosophies. I’ve recently moved to a temporary space where even my reasonably diminutive ATC SCM16 monitors have to be shoved up against a wall. As you can imagine, this plays merry hell with the frequency response and imaging and no amount of tweaking the EQ controls is going to make it easy for me to generate reproducible mixes using these monitors.

The 8331s are 285 mm by 189 mm by 212 mm in their cotton socks (305 mm with the neat isopad bases) and you may want to get the tape measure out to see how really small that is. They weigh a hefty 6.7kg and, like most Genelecs, the drivers are impervious to the poking fingers of unwashed media students by means of their metal protective mesh. The coaxial driver comprises a combined mid and high frequency unit and itself forms part of the monitor’s large waveguide – a product of a combination of the driver and the moulded recycled cast-aluminium cabinet – behind which two low-frequency drivers placed coaxially radiate audio through two ports at the front. I can’t recall having heard a three-way design this small before and I’ve definitely not come across one that places all the drivers at a point-source. Genelec give it a name and acronym and, I think, the Acoustically Concealed Woofers (ACW) deserves it. All in all, it’s a pretty amazing engineering coup and the speaker feels robust and the black finish, durable.

Another acronym, the Smart Active Monitor (SAM), describes the several parametric notch and shelving filters that can be tuned manually or automatically using the Genelec Loudspeaker Manager (GLM) software – the company are obviously big on acronyms – or akronyymi as the Finns say. I’ve always found that Genelecs integrate easily into most physical locations and I suspect the 8331 will be no exception. XLR inputs can accept analog line and AES/EBU format digital signals and Genelec claim that the monitors can generate 100 dB SPL sound level at 1 meter in free space and that’s plenty for a small studio or as part of a multi-speaker installation.

As is usual with small Genelecs, the signal inputs and IEC mains connectors are placed vertically so the speakers can be pressed back flush against a wall. For stand-alone use, access to those aforementioned filters is via DIP switches which, along with a level selector and Ethernet sockets make up the rear panel. The Intelligent Signal Sensing (ISS) – OK Genelec, you’ve gone too far now – places the speakers in stand-by mode when no signal is present after a pre-set time and wakes them up rapidly enough. This can be bypassed if you find it annoying or want to contribute more profits to energy companies. The 8331’s specified low frequency range is under 45Hz and up to 37kHz, with a ± 1.5 dB accuracy over the 58 Hz – 20 kHz range. The low-frequency drivers are powered by a 72W amplifier while twin 36W amplifiers handle the mid-range and tweeter. As usual though, specifications mean little in real-life applications – it’s how the speakers respond during playback, recording and mixing that really counts.

Did I say the 8331s were diminutive? Not the smallest Genelecs available, they look a little cartoonish on my ATC stands, but have the advantage of making my recording room appear twice as large. But before I subjected the monitors to such cruel sonic punishment, I moved them to a recently refurbished and acoustically lovely ‘proper’ studio space. Placing the 8331s on stands well away from the wall and without any filter or DSP processing showed the speakers to generate a well-balanced sound field with exceptional imaging. Like most small Genelecs, they sound ‘bigger’ than their size would suggest, but the 8331’s low end was less ‘one note’ than many other small monitors and a few test mixes demonstrated that the frequency balance was eminently suited to creating reproducible mixes.

Using the 8331s allowed me to do some actual mixing in a space that any engineer worth their salt would have told me was impossible

Another advantage of point source monitors is that they can be placed on their sides without any phase-related problems and I can report that the 8331s are sonically unperturbed when placed horizontally. Genelec’s GLM system consists of a USB interface, a measurement microphone, ethernet cables for connecting the speakers to interface and each other, and the software itself. Using a networking system such as this should make multi-speaker setups a doddle. The software asks the user to place the speakers in a simulation of their real-life position in an on-screen room and then generates a sweep to capture the audio from each speaker and to create the required correction curves. The audio purist in me always balks somewhat at this kind of digital trickery-pokery, but I was pleased to hear that in an acoustically treated space the correction required was minimal. The software allows you to bypass the correction, so you can quickly hear the effects of the processing.

I then moved the 8331s to my tiny new space and repeated the GLM process. The curves derived from processing of the sweep data in my space were shall we say, a lot more mountainous. You can store these corrections and, as the speakers are so portable, I can see users taking advantage of this feature a lot especially in installation applications. On first listening, the processing appeared to have really cleaned up the middle-range of any muffle and bloom, while the imaging was, both on and off axis, as superb as in the studio. The bass appeared to have gone completely – but, of course, this was in comparison to the boundary-enhanced untreated sound. In fact, listening to previous mixes and creating a few new ones demonstrated that the low-end presentation was pretty much ideal for making decisions about these frequencies. I could always tell the Genelecs were ported, but their low end wasn’t as problematic as some and it’s probably a reasonable compromise for speakers this small. Because of the point-source design and the fact the whole speaker front is the waveguide, I could get really close to the Genelecs without compromising the sound—another advantage where space is tight. Genelec state that the minimum listening distance for the 8331s is 0.4m and that’s about right for my room!

Using the 8331s allowed me to do some actual mixing in a space that any engineer worth their salt would have told me was impossible – after they’d stopped laughing, that is. They’re not laughing now.

Key Features

  • 6.7 kg / 15lb
  • 104 dB
  • 45 Hz – 37 kHz (-6 dB)
  • Woofer 72 W + Midrange 36 W + Tweeter 36 W

RRP: £2,039 ($2,685)

Stephen Bennett has been involved in music production for over 30 years. Based in Norwich, he splits his time between writing books and articles on music technology, recording and touring, and lecturing at the University of East Anglia.